When the Ducks traded Frederik Andersen to the Leafs, it was widely assumed the “Who’s No. 1?” debate was over.
John Gibson was Anaheim’s guy, after splitting time with Andersen in each of the last two seasons. The Ducks had finally decided to embrace a definitive starter and opt out of the platoon goalie system, after dealing with it for years.
Before Anderson and Gibson, it was Andersen and Jonas Hiller. Before Anderson and Hiller, it was Hiller and Viktor Fasth. In fact, you have to go all the way back to ’11-12 for the last time Anaheim had a clear-cut starter.
That was supposed to change this year.
Until it didn’t.
Gibson was the No. 1 for the majority of the season. But then he suffered a prolonged lower-body injury, and has played exactly once in the last 39 days — a 4-3 loss to St. Louis on Mar. 10.
Jonathan Bernier, meanwhile, has been the goalie of record in 16 of the last 17 games. He’s also been as good as Gibson, if not better, since taking the starting gig. In the month of March alone, Bernier went 10-1-2 with a .941 save percentage.
So you know what that means. With just five games left in the regular season, it’s time for Anaheim’s annual rite of passage: Asking who starts in the playoffs!
Bernier continues to keep the net as Gibson has become available, watching on for the second straight game after recovering from a lower-body injury. Bernier’s lights-out play for more than a month is a key reason why the Ducks are in position to win a fifth straight Pacific Division title.
Asked whether he felt it was important to keep Bernier in rhythm, Carlyle has gone with his tried-and-true response that “we know that we’re going to need both goaltenders.”
“We’ve stated that right from the opening of training camp that we felt we had a 1A and 1B tandem,” Carlyle added. “Obviously, Gibby was our guy and we went with him but he got hurt. He’s been out for more than a month and Bernie come in and gave us the same level of goaltending.
“It’s a unique situation to be in, but it’s one that I think any coach would take at this juncture, especially this time of the season.”
Bernier added to the intrigue with his remarks.
“There’s five games left in the season now,” he said. “I want to really make sure that I’m fresh and, at the same time, mentally ready to go for Game 1.”
The x-factor in all this, of course, is Carlyle.
Anaheim’s history of flip-flopping in goal fell at the feet of Bruce Boudreau (his handling of goalies was largely believed to be part of the reason for his dismissal). Boudreau started Gibson in last year’s opening-round playoff loss to the Preds, only to switch to Andersen midway through. And then there was the infamous ’14 playoffs, in which Boudreau started three different goalies — Andersen, Gibson and Hiller — over a 13-game span.
The Ducks are back in action on Saturday, when they take on the Oilers in Edmonton. Given both are gunning for top spot in the Pacific Division, the game has plenty of meaning — so Carlyle’s starting goalie choice could be pretty telling.